JC / Railbird

A Communications Breakdown

How many downloads have there been from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission website of the Life at Ten report released on Thursday? The number must be in the hundreds, at least. The findings, the result of more than four months of investigation into what happened before the start of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and Life at Ten’s poor performance make for fascinating reading, with day-by-day accounting of who was interviewed and what they said. The conclusions also confirm what was obvious in the days immediately following — there was a communications failure:

Had Dr. Bramlage given the jockey’s name or horse number to Dr. Peckham this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. If Dr. Bailey had relayed the information she received in a text message to the KHRC veterinary staff, this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. If the stewards had notified the veterinary staff after Zimmerman contacting them this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. Pletcher, his staff, and Velazquez all noticed LAT was unusually quiet during the day and in the paddock. Velazquez also noticed LAT was not warming up like she normally did. While in the best position to feel a potential problem and have the horse examined, Velazquez obviously did not present LAT to the KHRC veterinary staff for examination. Had Pletcher or Velazquez communicated any concerns to any veterinarian this situation could have been resolved.

Abetted by the assumption of almost all involved that responsibility lay elsewhere, the situation was allowed to turn into an incident that made bettors feel like fools (thank goodness that was it, and Life at Ten recovered well). If the above reads like everyone shared in the fault, Bill Finley has no problem naming the person ultimately to blame for the fiasco:

There are three stewards, in this case Veitch, Butch Brecraft and Rick Leigh. But it is Veitch, as the Chief State Steward representing the State of Kentucky, who is in charge. The buck stops with him. The moment he heard from Zimmerman, he should have been vigilant and done everything within his power to make sure than a horse that was in no condition to race never entered the starting gate. Instead, he did nothing.

The KHRC recommended that chief steward John Veitch, along with jockey John Velazquez, face sanctions for their parts in the incident. Velazquez’s lawyer Maggi Moss has said that the rider is being made a scapegoat.

Whether anything useful will come from the report remains to be seen. Among the suggestions made by the KHRC to prevent another such failure are that the stewards’ roles should be clarified and a protocol for decision-making determined — a need painfully obvious on reading accounts of the conversation in the stewards’ booth after Velazquez’s comments on ESPN were made known — and that the distribution of veterinary staff on-track be reviewed. What seems most likely to result is a negative — the report recommends that other industry groups consider media training and pre-race interview rules for jockeys, and “consider the impact of post parade jockey interviews on wagering integrity.”

But the problem wasn’t that Velazquez spoke honestly on television about how his mount was warming up, and the answer isn’t to prevent future on-camera revelations. This game needs more transparency, not less.

Going back to the stewards’ pre-race discussion:

BECRAFT cannot recall the exact conversation among the stewards after they came aware of VALEZQUEZ’S comments but remembers it as follows:

BECRAFT: “We need to have a veterinarian look at this horse”.
LEIGH did not respond.
VEITCH: “If we do that we might as well scratch the horse”.
BECRAFT: “If there is something wrong with the horse that is what needs to be done”.
BECRAFT said an “eerie silence” followed this comment.

VEITCH denies hearing these comments from BECRAFT but acknowledges BECRAFT might have said it. VEITCH denies responding, “If we do that we might as well scratch the horse”. VEITCH does recall commenting to the other stewards “Let’s see what the jockey does”.

It’s not one of the KHRC’s recommendations, but perhaps it should have been — record the stewards as they work.

3/12/11 Addendum: Gregory Hall makes a good point re: the findings:

The report didn’t directly answer the central questions being debated by the racing public since the race — whether Life At Ten definitely should have been scratched beforehand because of her condition or whether gamblers who made her the second choice in the betting were defrauded by the decision to let her run.

What makes Becraft’s recalled conversation so striking is that if it occurred as recounted, then the answer to the latter question is a definite “yes.”

6/29/11 Addendum: In testimony tweeted by Courier-Journal reporter Greg Hall during the first day of the KHRC hearing into John Veitch’s role, the chief steward, “acknowledges he said calling vet would mean might as well scratch horse ‘and stand by it’.” More here on the hearing.

1 Comment

It’s been downloaded 85 times from TTimes, and that’s a single report. I agree that the individual reports from KHRC website is likely easily in the upper hundreds.

Posted by EJXD2 on March 15, 2011 @ 10:33 am